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Is the San Andreas slipping?

Judith Lewis Mernit | Mar 24, 2009 10:35 AM

Fill the water jugs and put the wrench back near the gas valve, Southern Californians, the Big One’s about to blow! Or not. You never can tell with these things. But geologists are watching closely a “swarm” of recent earthquakes on the Southern San Andreas Fault, the largest of which logged in at 4.8 on the moment magnitude scale at five minutes till 5 this morning.

“Science Dude” Gary Robbins of the Orange County Register reports that the many little quakes that slipped over the weekend had already prompted the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to issue what he calls a “highly unusual news advisory” about the minor temblors. “While earthquake swarm events are not precursors or indicators of a larger earthquake event,” it said, “they are jolting reminders that Southern California will experience the Big One soon.”

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Slums and tent cities

Urban planners love the fact that slums are “walkable, high-density, and mixed-use,” as The Boston Globe recently reported about Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums. In the article, reporter Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow says many governments are beginning to “mitigate the problems with slums rather than eliminate the slums themselves.”

The general consensus is that informal communities (read: slums, tent cities, squatter villages, etc.) arise out of neglect from surrounding communities. And at the same time, some local governments are at least willing to address the issue, if not throw some money at it.

In the case of the tent city in Ontario, CA, mentioned in Scott Bransford’s recent HCN article, officials spent $3 million to work with the situation, rather than simply raid and destroy. The story points out that the campaign formalized the living situation, and in the process, made it sort of an exclusive camp. Some were pleased; some were not.

 Dignity Village

Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon - Photo courtesy of Portland Ground

So if U.S. officials are trying to regulate these communities in a mutually beneficial way, what are some possible solutions? (Read on and feel free to express your thoughts below.)

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Salmon and pesticides

Felice Pace | Mar 23, 2009 07:05 AM

Research conducted by NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Washington State University has discovered that common agricultural pesticides which attack the nervous systems of salmon can turn more deadly when they combine with other pesticides.  This development is likely to underscore requirements for no spray buffer zones along salmon waterways – a requirement which agricultural groups have been fighting ever since it was ordered by a federal judge

Anti-spray groups have long sought study of the “synergistic effects” that can occur when pesticides are used in combination and when they are mixed with so-called “inert ingredients” like oils. Combining pesticide in toxic cocktails and combining them with "inert ingredients” to help the pesticides better cover the target area are common practices. But studies of synergistic effects has been rare. 

What is not rare, however, is for the Northwest Fisheries Science Center to be on the cutting edge of salmon research.  For example, Robin Waples, one of the Centers most senior researchers, is credited with creating the concept of the Evolutionarily Significant Unit (ESU).  As applied to salmon, the ESU comes between the species and the stock; it has been used to separate salmon for risk assessment and endangered species listings. The ESU concept has made maintaining diversity within salmon species a workable proposition.   

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"Suns and pulsing moons" of content

Jodi Peterson | Mar 20, 2009 08:35 AM

Paolo Bacigalupi, formerly the online editor of HCN and now a rising star in science fiction, was just nominated for  the 2009 Hugo award (he's been a Hugo finalist in past years, and has won other sci-fi prizes as well). His story "The Gambler",  in the Novelette category, is a tale about the sordid future of media. Drawing a logical line from the collapse of print news and magazines today, Paolo envisions a time not far away when online delivery of titillating content -- "sex, stupidity and schadenfreude" -- has completely supplanted all serious news. In an interview with Pyr Books, Paolo describes the story:

"Given the unfavorable market forces currently swamping the print news industry, it seems like an opportune moment to consider what a new media landscape might feel like if/when its technologies become completely ascendant. 'The Gambler' was partly inspired by my work as an online editor at High Country News, where one of my jobs was to plan for a digital future. The promises and perils of the technologies I was working with turned out to be fertile ground for a story."

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Thank you, BLM

Ed Quillen | Mar 18, 2009 08:23 AM

Our dog Bodie, a collie-shepherd rez-mutt mix, may make it to his fifth birthday in October. Or maybe not. He's a car-chasing idiot and nothing we've tried, including a shock collar with five settings that range from tickle to Ted Bundy, has prevented him from racing off after anything on wheels.

We all need some exercise, though, so Martha and I take him for daily walks where he can run around. We try to find places nearby where cars and motorcycles are rare, and something wonderful just happened at one of those places.

This spot is about two miles from town. It's a quarter-mile of rocky rutted road in a narrow stretch between the railroad tracks (out of service for the past decade, so we don't have to worry about Bodie chasing trains) and the Arkansas River (the traffic of U.S. Highway 50 flows on the other side of the water, and Bodie is no swimmer).

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Salvaging the "Fire Service"

Terray Sylvester | Mar 18, 2009 03:57 AM
Filed under: Apocalypse

Lawmakers are trying, for a second time, to toss a lifeline to the Forest Service. Ballooning fire-fighting costs and constrictive Bush-era budgets have been squeezing the soul (read: expenses other than fire retardant, hoses and helicopters) out of the agency. But last week, 12 senators and five U.S. reps, most of them from western states, attempted to relieve some of the strain by reintroducing the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act to both branches of Congress.

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Colorado's job bias complaints soar

Marty Durlin | Mar 18, 2009 03:47 AM

Nancy Sienko became Colorado's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission field office director three years ago, in the middle of a surge of discrimination charges. While job-based discrimination complaints grew by 17 percent in the United States in the past five years, the caseload in Colorado exploded by 46 percent in the same time period. Sienko, with 31 years at the EEOC, says that whenever there’s a downturn in the economy, there’s a corresponding upturn in complaints. But that doesn’t explain Colorado’s surge, which began in 2003 when the state’s economy was fairly robust. Sienko says shifting demographics and better outreach likely account for much of the increase. It’s “good in the sense that people are aware of their rights,” she says. Unfortunately the agency’s resources are “severely diminished.” There were once as many as 40 investigators in the Colorado office -- now there are only 15, and each investigator handles a caseload of about 150. The agency has a current backlog of 2000 cases, which may take as long as two years – rather than the goal of 180 days – to resolve. 

The EEOC reviews complaints of workplace discrimination based on sex, race, national origin, religion, age, disability and "retaliation" (for protesting bias). Colorado's 1,959 complaints in 2008 are a mere two percent of the national figure of 95,402, which represents a 15 percent increase nationwide over 2007. "The EEOC has not seen an increase of this magnitude in charges filed for many years," said the Commission's Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. "While we do not know if it signifies a trend, it is clear that employment discrimination remains a persistent problem."

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Paper exercise or real progress?

Felice Pace | Mar 16, 2009 06:00 AM

In words typical of claims by environmental organizations, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently trumpeted “a big step forward for polar bear protection” when the Bush Administration agreed to designate critical habitat for the Polar Bear as part of a settlement with the group and its allies (Nature’s Voice, Jan/Feb 2009).  Based on my experience with critical habitat designated for the Coho salmon, however, my guess is that the designation will not make much difference in what actually takes place on the ground.

A final critical habitat designation for Central California Coast and Southern Oregon/Northern California Coasts Coho salmon was published by the National Marine Fisheries Service (MNFS) on May 5, 1999. NMFS first proposed protection not only for the beds, banks and waters of Coho streams but also for riparian areas sized in accordance with the Aquatic Conservation Strategy (ACS) for public land adopted a few years before as part of the Northwest Forest Plan. But the loud outcry from timber, agriculture, development interests and local governments resulted in changes.  The final designation included the extent of riparian vegetation associated with Coho streams. In this region that is generally far less than the “site tree length” definition of riparian zones found in the ACS.      

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Restorationists gather in Santa Cruz

Felice Pace | Mar 13, 2009 04:35 AM

Last week I attended the 27th annual conference of the Salmonid Restoration Federation. Restoration scientists, restoration technicians and young people enrolled in the California Conservation Corps gathered in Santa Cruz, California for four days of field trips, plenary addresses and workshops which showcased watershed and salmon restoration programs and projects from throughout California. You can read session abstracts and the detailed proceedings at the Federation's Website.

Back in 1982 when the first SRF conference took place, Restoration – the idea that we humans can rehabilitate the damage we have done to land and water and thereby facilitate the recovery of wildlife species, fisheries, watersheds and even rivers – was a new idea which agency managers, elected officials and most economists looked upon with skepticism. Nearly thirty years later Restoration and the Restoration Economy are widely accepted. Elected officials now compete to bring restoration dollars home while the restoration economy is hailed as an important and dynamic element of the total economy.  New economic concepts like Natural Capital and restoration as an investment in Ecosystem Services have been developed to explain how the restoration economy works. By these and other measures it appears that Restoration has arrived and is firmly ensconced in the mainstream of American life and economy.

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The Native health gap

Jodi Peterson | Mar 13, 2009 04:06 AM

Despite the skyrocketing cost of healthcare, Americans are enjoying longer lifespans, and fewer children are dying in infancy. Unless they're Native American, that is.  The numbers for Washington state, as reported in the Seattle P-I, are shocking:

A recent state Department of Health report showed that the march against cancer, heart disease and infant mortality has largely bypassed Native Americans. In 2006, the latest year studied, Native American men were dying at the highest rate of all people, with little change since the early '90s. Their life expectancy was 71, the lowest age of all men, and six years lower than that of white men.

The news was just as grim for Native American women. Their death rate had surged by 20 percent in a 15-year period, while the overall death rate had decreased by 17 percent.

But the starkest health disparity was among babies. Native American babies were dying at a rate 44 percent higher than a decade ago, while the overall rate of infant deaths had declined.

The sad statistics have many roots, some beginning in the 1800s (diseases brought by European settlers; broken treaties and land grabs), some more recent (federal budget cuts that make it hard for Natives to afford medical care and healthy food; a statewide shortage of rural doctors).

And the inequities aren't limited to Washington State. According to the federal Native American Injury Mortality Atlas, Indian children and youth had the highest death rates in the country for motor vehicle crashes and pedestrian deaths, and a suicide rate up to 8 times the national average.

Help may be on the way, although health disparities of this magnitude will take years to reverse. Obama's budget proposes $4 billion  for the Indian Health Service, a $700 million increase from last year. Tribes are also taking action to reduce suicides and promote exercise and healthy eating.


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